The Austin Kimberley and Tasman, and their Morris-badged cousins, were an interesting development of the BMC 1800/2200 reserved for the Antipodean markets only. They featured conventional three-box styling and were the first cars to use the six-cylinder version of the E-Series engine.
Built between 1970 and late 1972, unsold stocks of Kimberley and Tasman models remained on sale after the Leyland P76 was launched the following year.
Austin Kimberley: the thinking man’s BMC 1800/2200
The Austin Kimberley X6 and Austin Tasman X6 were developed by Leyland Australia as a replacement for the Austin 1800. These cars were styled in Australia to reflect local tastes and went under the codename YDO19. The two models were unusual in their market for being front-wheel drive, and offered in four- and six-cylinder forms.
Unlike the BMC 1800, which was clearly designed for European tastes, the Kimberley and Tasman were designed from the outset to be a six-seaters, and the boot was necessarily large – again to cater for local tastes. Interestingly, the Kimberley needed to retain the 1800’s side doors and much of its centre section, aside from a 3in stretch in wheelbase. However, the doors required new pressings, as the handles needed to be recessed in order to meet Australian Design Rules requirements.
Styling was penned in the UK, with the Cowley Design Office working on YDO13. Harris Mann was involved in the process, which initially started out quite handsome and brutal looking, but ended up being civilised somewhat for production. His design can be seen above – but also, the Australian Design Team had a crack at the YDO13, too, and wanted it to be more progressive, almost NSU Ro80-looking than the UK’s proposal. It was ruled out, more’s the pity.
The Kimberley would end up being the first car from the BMC/Leyland stable to be powered the E6-Series engine. This was a six-cylinder version of the four-cylinder E-Series that debuted in the Austin Maxi and was unusual (for the time) in featuring a chain-driven overhead camshaft. Like the Maxi’s engine, the Kimberley’s power unit was extremely compact for a straight-six, thanks to its siamesed bores and, as it shared the bore and stroke of the 1485cc four, it had a modest engine capacity of 2227cc. Maximum power was 10obhp in the Tasman and 113bhp for the twin-carburettor Kimberley.
The 2.2-litre E6-Series engine wouldn’t make it to the BMC 2200 until 1972 – and, in Australia (and South Africa), it would end up being enlarged to 2622cc (using the Maxi 1750’s bore and stroke measurements) for the Leyland P76. This larger unit wasn’t used in any European applications, although the Rover SD1 ended up being a recipient via the interesting Rover SDX.
X6 model differences
The Tasman and Kimberley weren’t hugely different, with the cheaper car receiving the simpler six-seater interior, a lower-powered engine and four-headlamp grille. They were launched in 1970, and were upgraded to Mk2 specification (using the codename YDO19) in late 1971. Leyland Australia also designed a pickup version, but that never left the drawing board.
In the end, the Kimberley and Tasman were far from being the success Leyland Australia hoped for them. These front-wheel drive cars were viewed with suspicion by Australian buyers and, despite being hugely commodious inside, they weren’t large enough to compete with the Chrysler Valiant, Ford Falcon and Holden Kingswood. It wouldn’t be until Leyland Australia wheeled out the P76 in 1973 that it felt like the company had a car capable of competing effectively with the local opposition – and that was compromised by the closure of its maker late in 1974.
However, the mothership in the UK didn’t completely ignore the X6 models. They would end up forming the basis for the Vanden Plas 1800 concept (below). It’s also worth noting that the Kimberley was also sold in New Zealand as the Morris Kimberley, where it also enjoyed a foreshortened production run.
According to BMC historian Chris Cowin, launching the 1800 and 2200 MkIII with the X6’s body was the original plan (the 1969 BMC minutes appear to indicate) but it appears to have fallen victim to cost cutting. This was perhaps down to body re-tooling costs, which would have been higher in the UK than Australia given respective production volumes. This might also explain why Vanden Plas ended up reworking a 1.8-litre X6 prototype into the VP1800.
The Kimberley is now an interesting note in BMC history, and one that shows how the ungainly 1800 could have been made a little more mainstream for the UK market with a little re-engineering.